What causes mild cognitive impairment (MCI)?

Updated: Apr 22, 2019
  • Author: Sonal Mehta, MD; Chief Editor: Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA  more...
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Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is heterogeneous both in its clinical manifestations and in its etiology. Given that amnestic MCI often results from Alzheimer disease (AD) pathology, it is not surprising that most patients with amnestic MCI progress to clinical AD within 6 years. Nonamnestic forms of MCI may be due to cerebrovascular disease, Lewy body dementia, Parkinson disease, frontotemporal dementias, atypical Alzheimer disease, or no specific underlying pathology.

Mood disorders, medical illness, and medications may affect cognition in such a way that a patient will meet criteria for MCI (usually nonamnestic MCI). Many such patients have normal neuropsychological test results when reevaluated a year later.

According to a large population-based study conducted in 2016, there is no significant link between exposure to general anesthesia and the development of MCI in individuals aged 40 years and older. Anesthesia exposure, assessed as a dichotomous variable, was not associated with MCI nor was there was a link between the number of anesthesia exposures and MCI. [18] A study in 2013 also had similar findings; those results showed exposure to general anesthesia during medical procedures after age 45 years is not a risk factor for dementia. [19]  However, these data do not exclude the possibility that anesthetic exposures occurring later in life may be associated with an increase in the rate of incident MCI.

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